Prior to his pending retirement in May 2017, Prison Ombudsman Tom McGonigle talks to David Whelan about the role of his office and the latest annual report. In March 2016, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed legislation to support placing the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland on a statutory footing. Tom McGonigle believes this is a...
Kathy Clugston’s voice is well-known to radio listeners: she presents the news on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service, provides voices for The Folks on the Hill on Radio Ulster and is the PR4L (Posh Radio 4 Lady) on The Scott Mills Show on Radio 1. Born in Belfast, Kathy studied French and Russian at Queen’s University and the University of Bath. Her first book, A Brief History of Tim, was published by Virgin Books last October.
How did you get started in journalism?
A mixture of luck and cheek. My friend spotted an ad in the paper for a TV continuity announcer at BBC Northern Ireland and thought it would suit me. I’d been involved in drama at school and university, but had no experience in broadcasting. I was a bit aimless at the time, working for a ferry company. I persuaded my boss to let me voice one of their radio ads so I would at least have something on my CV. I then went in to see the Head of Presentation at BBC Northern Ireland and asked lots of questions.
From that meeting, he later told me, he could see I had a good instinct for the job and recommended I be invited for a voice test. After five years I moved into news at Radio Netherlands; that led to BBC World Service and eventually Radio 4 in 2006.
How well is your accent received by Radio 4 listeners and at home?
There are so many regional accents on national radio nowadays it would be a full- time job complaining about them all, so I’ve got off pretty lightly. Most letters are lovely but, of course, you get a few negative comments. One man emailed to berate me as “Ian Paisley in a wig”, which I wasn’t quite sure how to take!
Another wrote a poem explaining that “Gordon Brown” shouldn’t rhyme with “Battle of the Boyne”. At least he expressed his dislike with a bit of wit. The main complaint I get at home is that I’ve “gone a bit posh”. I suppose they’re right, although I am careful not to get too anglicised. I always do a good Norn Iron “showers” and “eight”. There was great hilarity in the Radio 4 office when we ran a nature series called Owl Prowl.
What inspired ‘A Brief History of Tim’?
It started as a silly word game on Twitter taking one letter off Radio 4 programmes e.g. Book of the Wee and In Our Tie. It would have come and gone in a day if it hadn’t appeared on the Radio 4 website and then on Radio 4 itself. An agent was listening and suggested I expand the idea into other areas and write a book. I’m a big fan of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, and I like to think it’s the kind of game they would play. Barry Cryer gave me a line for the cover, which I was thrilled about.
To be honest, I hardly remember anything. When the news is upsetting, as it often is, your job is to present it as best you can without letting it affect you emotionally, so you engage with the stories for the briefest possible time. However, I do recall a funny one I had a few months ago – it was about Silvio Berlusconi adding a detachable penis to an ancient Italian statue. The correspondent was David Willey. It was very difficult not to laugh.
What are radio’s advantages over TV?
Immediacy and intimacy. Stick a microphone in front of someone and you have an instant broadcast – no setting up or camera angles to worry about. Radio can be like whispering in someone’s ear. I also love the fact that you can look like death warmed up but as long as you sound OK it doesn’t matter – great for scruffy people like me.
How did you get involved in The Scott Mills Show and what have been the highlights?
Another piece of luck! Can you see a theme here? Radio 1 called the office looking for someone to read some emails out for a week, and I was available. Happily, I got what what they were after, the feature proved a hit and I’m still doing it more than two years later. The
highlights have been singing live at the Edinburgh Fringe (in Scott Mills the Musical in 2009) and auditioning with my ukulele to be in the rap star P Diddy’s new band – he said on air I could join, but the call never came in the end. Disappointing.
Outside work, how do you relax?
Well, I’ve mentioned my ukulele – I’ve been playing for a couple of years and adore it. I also love the theatre and London is the best place for it. I don’t do any sport but I walk a lot; if I have some time off I’ll go somewhere outside London and walk for a few days. I’d love to do some proper walking around Northern Ireland when I get the chance.